Can a fitness band do more than just track activities and sleep patterns? Huawei thinks so, and is proving it with the first generation TalkBand, a fitness tracker that comes complete with a Bluetooth earpiece in the band.
It seems like everyone is getting into fitness bands this year. With the whole wearable category set to explode in 2014, and more so in 2015, we totally get why, and since big names like Sony, Samsung, and LG are already here, it makes sense for Huawei to enter this also.
Starting this off is the TalkBand B1, a unique concept that is one part fitness band and another part Bluetooth headset, making it possible to answer phone calls using a Bluetooth earpiece while you’re running and losing weight.
To make this happen, Huawei has combined two gadgets into one, throwing the sensors and screen normally used in a fitness band into the body of a Bluetooth headset, and making this part dock into a special band to keep both elements on your wrist.
As such, you’ll find an accelerometer among these components in the plastic body of the B1, with a 1.4 inch OLED screen capable of showing one colour on an otherwise black screen.
Wireless connections are built into this section as well, with Near-Field Communication (NFC) for easy pairing with compatible devices, and Bluetooth to make that happen to begin with. Huawei Australia tells us Bluetooth runs at 4.1 here, a version we’ve yet to come across, while other international spec sheets suggest a more likely Bluetooth 3.0 can be found here. Provided you have a phone from the past two years, it should be compatible, and with iOS 5.0 and Android 4.0 supported on the app side of things, this makes that even more likely.
A microphone and tiny ear-piece speaker is also found in the TalkBand B1, making up the Bluetooth headset aspect of the unit, with these parts facing the inside of the flexible band that you wear.
Also in this band is a set of five gold pins, connecting the TalkBand B1 body to the USB charge port at the end of the fitness band.
One button can be found on the outside of the TalkBand body, with this button used to flick through the various menus of the TalkBand B1, while the flexible wearable band supports two buttons, with one of them acting as the cover to this same button (to push you through the menus), while the other detaches the B1 from its wrist band.
The Huawei TalkBand B1 has a battery rated for 90mAh.
It seems that everyone is getting into the fitness band game, and for Huawei’s first foray into the category, the company isn’t content in making a “me-too” product. Instead, Huawei has come up with its own idea, converging two technologies into one: the fitness band and the Bluetooth headset.
Looking at the TalkBand, it’s easy to see where the name comes from, because simply, it’s a fitness band and that aforementioned Bluetooth headset. There’s a button to release the headset from the band, and if you look into the band, there’s a crevice for the ear piece.
While it’s not the thinnest or smallest fitness band around, it’s no different in size to Samsung’s Gear Fit, and this one lets you take the screen right out of the band, so that’s something.
Fitting the TalkBand B1 to your arm is pretty easy: simply do up the two-prong clasp by pushing it into two of the holes, tightening the band to your arm.
Make sure you get the fit right before you buy, because Huawei has two of them, and depending on the size of your wrist, the TalkBand B1 may or may not be terribly useful. While this reviewer has small-ish wrists, it’s clear the size Huawei sent him is not made for medium or large-ish wrists.
There are two sizes, that said, with the smaller being made for wrist circumference of 135 to 170mm, and the large being set for 160 to 200mm, with each sporting a series of holes and a two-prong clasp to tighten it for the wrist. Essentially, choose the right one for your wrist and you should be fine, but measure ahead of time, because if you think you have small wrists and you, well, don’t, fun times.
Once that’s done, you’re good to go, so switch the TalkBand on by holding down the button, and let it start calculating and monitoring your footsteps.
With the TalkBand in operation, you’ll be able to flick through various screens, such as seeing the time first (as well as a basic look as to whether Bluetooth is connected and how much battery life you have left), how many footsteps you’ve taken with a little man running to a flag at the end, the calories burned, and the amount of time you’ve slept.
And when someone calls, you can either answer it on your phone, or press the TalkBand release button on the band to simultaneously disconnect the B1 from the strap and press the answer button, which will send the call straight to the Bluetooth headset.
It’s a neat concept, and one that works well, for the most part.
You may find that its steps aren’t exactly right, and so far, FitBit and Jawbone seem to offer the best results in this department.
Similarly, we found that Huawei’s treatment of sleep measurement misses the mark a bit, also, thanks to how it tends to count sleeping when you’ve taken the TalkBand B1 off for a while, starting its tracking up when it’s off your wrist for around an hour.
At one point in the test, we measured a good 12 hours of sleep, of which we were maybe sleeping for seven or eight hours of.
After an update, it seemed to perform marginally better, with a closer indication of our terrible sleeping patterns, and you don’t even have to prod it to get the TalkBand to work in this mode, as it switches into it all by itself.
Another neat use of the TalkBand B1 comes from how it integrates itself into your phone’s use, and while you can’t control your music from here — sorry, no touchscreen controls like the LG LifeBand — it will tell you who is calling you, vibrating against your wrist in the process.
Huawei’s TalkBand B1 is also a gadget that offers a decent amount of battery life, giving us almost a week before the battery gave up and the system shut off.
Thankfully, the charge port is built into the band, with a USB port easily found under one of the plastic flaps, making it a simple matter of plugging it into a computer’s USB port, or alternatively one of the many USB wall adaptors you — like us — probably have laying around.
Overall, we applaud Huawei for taking the chance and designing a product that no other manufacturer has tried, at least not in this way.
Oh sure, Jawbone and Fitbit have relatively passive fitness bands with little in the way of smartphone call and notification capture (but plenty for health and fitness), and Samsung, Sony, and LG all have comparable options that can alert you of phone calls, text messages, and more, but none of them have gone so far as to integrate a Bluetooth receiver, with only Samsung getting close with its Gear watch letting you talk directly into the wearable.
But Huawei has done it, and for a first try, it’s not bad, but there are some things that let down the design. After all, nobody gets it right the first time.
One way that Huawei doesn’t nail it is in that Bluetooth earpiece, as its screen is inadequate for outdoor use, as is its audio quality.
Head outdoors and you’ll see an example of the first, especially if it’s sunny outside.
While it might always be sunny in Philadelphia (we’re told), Sydney isn’t always like that, and so rainy days have shown us that the TalkBand B1’s OLED screen is readable when the sky is overcast, but more or less completely useless when the sun is shining overhead.
Seriously, the brightness on offer from the TalkBand B1 appears to be lacking here, and so when you go out running or exercising when that big beacon of light and warmth appears above, don’t be surprised if you can’t read a single word or digit it displays.
Also don’t be surprised if people on the other end of the phone can’t hear you when you’re out using the built-in Bluetooth receiver, because it’s not only an awkward fit, but also a weak earpiece.
We tried it a few times, and while it had trouble fitting in our ears quickly, the greater problem came from the microphone, which according to people on the other end of the phone made it hard to hear us and helped us to sound like a “high talker” out of Seinfeld.
The translation of that appears to be hard to hear, a little high pitched, echoey, and generally better if we were to answer it directly on the handset.
With that sort of sound quality, together with a not so fantastic fit, the “talk” part of the TalkBand is a bit of a let down, and we’d steer clear from using it.
Despite the problems with the whole talking side of the TalkBand, we’re not ready to write it off because the idea makes a lot of sense. Two products that people use in the one, and you don’t have to look weird using them, not like when you bring a wristwatch to your lips to talk into it.
Really, it just needs a revision and another attempt, perhaps with a comfier and improved Bluetooth earpiece. We love the idea — we really do — and since the Bluetooth earpiece switches on the moment you disconnect it from the band (this happens because removing it from the band also presses the button on the side of the earpiece to tell it to start talking to the phone), it’s a convenient concept.
But that screen needs work, it really does, and the sound from the headset alongside it. Fix these and the second generation Huawei TalkBand could prove to be a convenient, clever, and top choice concept.